4 Soft Skills Your Employees Need During and After a COVID-19 World

COVID-19 is redefining jobs (1). Social distancing has radically changed the way restaurants work, causing a spike in delivery and take-out orders, and employees are taking on different responsibilities to fit these new roles in the workplace (2). Another profound shift in the industry is the way staff is now expected to interact with their customers. Soft-skills, defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people”(3), will be more important than ever, and managers with a long-term vision for their restaurant are using this time as an opportunity to build and strengthen their team. Here are some skill sets we think will help managers manage in today’s environment and how they can teach them.

Conflict Resolution (Guest Relations)

“Conflict Resolution” refers to the way one resolves an issue or problem between two or more people (4). According to the American Management Association, a non-profit educational membership organization and leader in professional development based in New York City, conflict resolution is a core skill for managers and supervisors, not only for handling disputes efficiently, but also for leveraging potential conflict situations as opportunities for critical conversations that enhance work relationships, increasing overall performance, and preventing conflicts from hindering employees’ professional growth (5).

This skillset will hold more significance now during the COVID-19 pandemic. People (guests and staff alike) are on edge, and more sensitive at this time of uncertainty. For example, a guest might refuse to wear a mask; a guest may file a complaint on a poorly handled order via third-party delivery. Conflicts, especially concerning the new regulations around safety and sanitation, are more likely to arise and staff should be aware and prepared so they can handle situations professionally.

You can visit a step by step guide to conflict resolution in the AMA article here (4, 5), but we recommend supervisors to first create opportunities for awareness and open dialogue with their staff. It is natural for people to react instinctively and not think through how they respond, but they can also prepare and practice handling these situations beforehand and practice stepping out of their comfort zone and putting conflicts into context (12). This is why we recommend role playing as part of the staff training—so that managers can first become comfortable with conflicts and practice resolving them in a controlled space. Practice will also help to build empathy for the guests and to handle difficult situations more quickly and readily.

Internal Conflict Resolution

Internal Conflict Resolution is focused more on building trust between staff (or between staff and managers) by addressing and resolving commonly encountered conflicts within the workplace. The same guidelines apply when teaching internal conflict resolution, except that supervisors should be prepared to play a mediator’s role. Open discussion, while it may be an opportunity for the team to open up, connect and clear up misunderstandings, may also stir up emotion and create tension. As with external conflict resolution, role playing and practicing situations will help build trust and credibility with team members, create team resiliency, and help team members gain confidence in holding difficult conversations calmly and assertively (5, 6).

Worksheets can come in handy. Choosing a particular conflict to discuss and dissect as a team can help staff reflect on ways emotions affect their perception of a particular problem. By considering both sides of an issue and feelings one may have experienced, they may be able to find ways to resolve conflicts logically, or else, find a good compromise that satisfies both parties.

Situational Leadership

We mentioned earlier how the pandemic has been redefining jobs. According to Arran Heal, the Managing Director of CMP Resolutions, the sudden shifts of workload and responsibility have been making it difficult to keep a grip on workplace relationships (7). There’s more potential for misunderstandings, silences, unconsidered messaging; existing interpersonal problems are coming under renewed pressure and new conflicts are being created between employees (7).

A flexible leadership style is crucial in this current environment. One model that we’ve been introducing to our GMs is “Situational Leadership,” a leadership theory that encourages leaders to take stock of their team members, weigh the many variables in their workplace and choose the leadership style that best fits their goals and circumstances (8).

The Blanchard and Hersey model of Situational Leadership is based on two dimensions: leadership style and development level of the employees (8). Directing leaders (S1) should use specific guidance and close supervision and best paired with employees who are of a low development level (D1: low competence and high commitment); Coaching leaders (S2) explain and persuade and best when working with employees of the D2 level (some competence, low commitment); Supporting leaders (S3) share and facilitate and should work with D3 employees (high competence, variable commitment); while a Delegating leadership style (S4) should be used with D4 employees (high competence and high commitment).

While situational leadership is not traditionally categorized as a soft-skill, this particular leadership model is an excellent tool for managers, helping them to modify their leadership styles based on their evaluation of a staff’s competency and commitment levels. No one size fits all, even in leadership, and managers who can understand and utilize different leadership styles will find it easier to effectively drive behavior change, accelerate employee development, as well as manage their employees in the COVID world, where roles are constantly shifting (9).

More information and teaching materials can be found here on the main site (9). We found that situational leadership is a valuable addition to managerial training, particularly if used in conjunction with exercises to help identify leadership styles, worksheets to help define development levels, and role playing.

Effective Communication

Good communication is the foundation of good leadership, and the need for this soft skill has become more significant with the pandemic. According to Nicole Dehler, vice president of StayNTouch, a mobile hotel property management system (PMS) company based in Bethesda, Maryland, restaurant staff, especially those in front of house, literally compose the “front lines” when interacting with guests and implementing hygiene and social distancing measures (10). “If [staff] aren’t informed of your brand’s messaging on sanitation guidelines and response strategies, management will be more difficult and people could be put at risk,” she said. “It is absolutely vital that you communicate with your employees early and often, and are as upfront and transparent as possible, even if it means having difficult conversations or conveying bad news” (10).

Just as with conflict resolution and leadership skills, supervisors can teach effective communication by initiating hands-on practice, role-playing and introspection (11). To measure the effectiveness of communication, supervisors can collect qualitative information by studying employees and asking them for feedback. Long term measurements could also be taken by considering turnover rates, productivity and employee satisfaction (11).

Conclusion

Many of the soft skills overlap in that they aim to reduce friction between relationships through building emotional intelligence and flexibility. Conflict resolution (external and internal), situational leadership and effective communication will all be critical to harmonizing workplace relationships until the return to normality post-pandemic, and supervisors should consider training their team these crucial skills to improve team building and solidarity.

References:
(1) https://hbr.org/2020/04/how-the-coronavirus-crisis-is-redefining-jobs
(2) https://www.restaurantbusinessonline.com/workforce/covid-19-gives-rise-new-restaurant-jobs
(3) http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/soft-skills
(4) https://www.amanet.org/articles/the-five-steps-to-conflict-resolution/
(5) https://www.amanet.org/conflict-management-workshop/
(6) https://www.amanet.org/articles/conflict-management-workplace/
(7) https://www.mediate.com//articles/heal-conflict-COVID.cfm
(8) https://online.stu.edu/articles/education/what-is-situational-leadership.aspx
(9) https://situational.com/situational-leadership/
(10) https://www.asianhospitality.com/article-communication-skills-a-must-in-covid-19-crisis/
(11) https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/toolkits/pages/managingorganizationalcommunication.aspx
(12) https://www.mediate.com/articles/navy.cfm

Goliath Consulting Group offers management training and a host of other services for independent, chain and franchised restaurants. Learn more at http://www.goliathconsulting.com or contact us at getresults@goliathconsulting.com

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